Point A - Harbour

Kirkwall harbour is 90 nautical miles from Aberdeen, 80 nautical miles from Lerwick in Shetland, 300 nautical miles from Bergen in Norway and 233 nautical miles from Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands. (All distances approximate). I nautical mile = 1.85km or 1.15 miles.

Kirkwall Harbour – photo by Stevekeiretsu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For centuries, Kirkwall’s harbour attracted traders from the Baltic and North Sea ports and Arctic fishing fleets passed this way. Local merchants traded in agricultural produce such as grain, butter, linen and wool. There was also said to be smuggling in tobacco and spirits, to avoid excise duties.

Kirkwall Harbour Information plaque – photo G. Wilson

This vibrant port attracted the interest of privateers and attacks on shipping were common. One such raid was when Elephant, the ship of the grain trader John Traill, was captured by French privateers off Shetland in 1697. For this reason Kirkwall’s harbour front was heavily fortified with guns to defend against these attacks.

King James V of Scotland complained of raids by English fishermen in 1535, and in August 1557 there was an attack by a fleet of English naval ships. In what became known as the Battle of Papdale, the English burned parts of the town, captured the Cathedral and bombarded the castle, but were eventually defeated by a force of around 3,000 Orcadians.

Today the harbour remains busy, with ferries sailing to and from Orkney’s outer Isles, ships that service the fish farms, a lifeboat station and other commercial, fishing and leisure vessels. There are over a hundred cruise ships visiting this popular destination every year.


Directions: To get to the next stop, walk along Bridge Street until the junction with Albert Street. At this point you will see Parliament Close, our next stop.